The Carter administration plans to press Congress to end its arms ban against Turkey and pass a $1 billion military aid package, U.S. officials said today.
The aid program has been stalled for two years because Congress has linked its passage to Turkish concessions in settling the bitter dispute with Greece over the future of Cyprus.
The administration decision on the four-year aid package was revealed today after Secretary of State Cyrus Vance ended talks in Ankara with Turkey's new premier, Bulent Ecevit. It implies, according to State Department officials, that the White House shares both Turkish and NATO concerns that Turkey's armed forces - the largest along NATO's southern flank - have been seriously weakened as a result of the arms ban.
It also apparently reflects some signs that the prospects for a negotiated settlement of the Cyprus dispute have improved recently.
Vance flew directly from Ankara to Athens, where he held talks with Greek Premier Constantine Karamanlis.
While officials in both countries openly criticized any attempt at U.S. pressure over Cyprus, Vance undoubtedly broached the issue in his talks. U.N. Secretary General Kurt Waldheim also has been meeting with all the parties concerned in an effort to get U.N.-sponsored negotiations back on the tracks.
The defense cooperation agreement with Turkey actually was signed in 1976 and sent to Congress by former President Ford. The Carter administration - although officially endorsing it - thus far has done little if anything to press for its passage. Today's step marks a shift in the administration's position.
The Turkish armed forces are almost completely equipped by the United States and the impact of the arms embargo - which even cuts off spare parts - has been increasingly severe, according to Turkish and NATO officials.
In retaliation for the congressional ban, Turkey has shut down some two dozen U.S. military installations and passage of the defense cooperation agreement would allow them to reopen.
Those installations are used primarily for electronic eavesdropping on the Soviet Union and officials claim their shutdown has resulted in a loss of information that would be useful in the strategic arms negotiations with the Soviet Union.
In Ankara today, Ecevit told a group of U.S. journalists that Turkey's strategic location meant it could not allow its defenses to be weakened too long - a condition he said has existed "too long already."
Nevertheless, he said, Turkey had never indicated it would pull out of military participation in NATO, as Greece has already done, nor engage "in that kind of blackmail" to get its way.
Under questioning, Ecevit said that in his lengthy discussions with Vance he "got the impression" that the Carter administration hoped that the defense cooperation agreement would be taken up by Congress soon, and also that Vance seemed to "accept the reasonableness" of separating the defense issue from the longstanding effort to force Turkey into concessions on Cyprus.
Later, U.S. officials said not contradict Ecevit's impressions.
Ecevit said that in reviewing a range of topics with Vance, the two had agreed to detailed followup talks, although no date has been set.
Ecevit said that while he could not do anything about congressional attitudes, his government believed that Ankara's disputes with Greece over Cyprus and the Aegean should not be of any particular concern to any other country. Ecevit said he would accept an invitation that Karamanlis alluded to earlier in the week for a meeting of the two.
"Once a problem gets internationalized, countries with different interest; and concerns come in and only complicate the matter," he said. "Whenever Greece was able to rely on others, we have run into problems." Part of the problem, Ecevit said was the Greek-American lobby in Congress.
The Greeks, for their part, have tended to rely more on the United Nations as the vehicle to help solve the Cyprus situation. Since the Turks invaded in 1974, Turkish Cypriots with about 20 per cent of the population have controlled 40 per cent of the island. The invasion was prompted by a Greek-backed coup, that briefly toppled the Cyprus government.
The Carter administration and the Greek government have also initialed a new $700 million military aid program that involves retention of four U.S. military bases here. The agreement, however has not yet been signed or approved by either legislature.
The Greeks have not placed as great an emphasis on this pact as the Turks have on theirs. This could change if the Turkish agreement begins to move through Capitol Hill.
Vance met for more than two hours with Karamanlis tonight. The Greek leader later said he had fully explained the Greek view on regional disputes - meaning Cyprus and oil exploration in the Aegean - and that he did not ask for, nor did Vance offer, any American involvement.
Karamanlis said later he was neither optimistic nor pessimistic over the likelihood that new Turkish proposals - not yet public - might lead to a Cyprus settlement.
The Greek pullout from NATO also was discussed in conversations that American officials later said went well and that Karamanlis said were "conducted among old friends."
Vance's arrival here was met with some violence, including two bomb explosions that badly damaged a U.S. Information Service office and an American Express office in Saloniko.